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Jury convicts local contractor of stealing construction equipment

Crime Watch

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Ryan Phillip Hilliard | Bonneville County Jail

IDAHO FALLS — A jury convicted an Idaho Falls contractor for stealing a skid steer from another construction company.

The owner of Ultimate Construction, 33-year-old Ryan Phillip Hilliard, was convicted of felony grand theft following a second jury trial in Bonneville County. The first trial, in December, resulted in a hung jury, but on Friday, the jury determined Hilliard did have his employee, Raul Lomeli, pick up “his” skid steer — which actually belonged to Bybee Construction — from a job site.

The equipment in question, a Caterpillar Model 289C skid-steer valued between $25,000 and $30,000, was missing for several months. In surveillance video shared with EastIdahoNews.com, a white pickup truck pulling a trailer is seen taking the skid-steer from the job site in October 2018. Bybee Construction had no indication where the equipment went until it received a call in May 2019.

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Western States CAT staff called the company, saying they were asked to perform maintenance on the stolen skid-steer. When mechanics inspected the Model 289C, they found the VIN plates had been removed, and the skid-steer had been repainted. A diagnostic check showed the skid-steer as being the one stolen in a federal database.

At the time of the find, Hilliard had the skid-steer. In an interview with detectives, Hilliard told police he bought the equipment for $24,000 from Lomeli, according to an affidavit of probable cause. Investigators caught up with Lomeli, who said Hilliard had him pick up “his” skid-steer” and take it to Ultimate Construction’s shop. Text messages between the two showed them speaking about exchanging money for “the cat.”

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Lomeli told investigators he noticed a post on social media about the stolen skid-steer, leading him to confront Hilliard. During the confrontation, Lomeli claims Hilliard offered him $5,000 to stay quiet about the theft.

Just before the December trial, Hilliard presented a bill of sale dated Oct. 26, 2018. On the bill of sale is a signature with Lomeli’s name, but the employee said the signature is not his and appears forged.

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The signature on the bill of sale was compared to the signature on Lomeli’s driver’s license, the signature on the check he endorsed and the signature he provided to the prosecution — none of which matched the bill of sale signature.

Prosecutors charged Lomeli on Jan. 16 for compounding in a felony. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 13. If convicted, he could be ordered to spend up to five years in prison.

RELATED | Hung jury results in mistrial for local contractor accused of stealing equipment

Sentencing for Hilliard is scheduled for April 1 at the Bonneville County Courthouse by District Judge Bruce Pickett. In Idaho, felony grand theft holds a minimum of one year in prison. The maximum time under the statute is 14 years and up to a $5,000 fine.

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